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New York’s Oldest Museums: Where Are They Now?

Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street in Manhattan (1905) (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street in Manhattan (1905) (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)

On an international scale, New York City isn’t an especially old city, but in its history from the 17th century to today quite a lot has changed in its urban landscape. Old NYC, a project by software engineer Dan Vanderkam, launched last month with thousands of images from the New York Public Library (NYPL) mapped across the five boroughs.

Based on the NYPL’s 80,000 image collection Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s–1970s, Old NYC centers heavily on the 1920s to ’40s, with photographs by Percy Loomis Sperr. Vanderkam previously created an Old SF interactive map of photographs from the San Francisco Public Library, and Old NYC, created in collaboration with the NYPL, was an 18-month passion project.

NYPL archive images mapped on OldNYC
NYPL archive images mapped on OldNYC (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
Screenshot of OldNYC showing archive NYPL images of the area around the Metropolitan Museum of Art
OldNYC light box of archive NYPL images of the area around the Metropolitan Museum of Art (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Intersections are plotted with dots that pull up geotagged photographs along with captions captured with an optical scanner (thus there are some spelling errors which are being crowdsourced). Similar to digital mapping projects that utilize institutional data sets like Mapping Emotions in Victorian London from the Stanford Literary Lab or the NYPL’s own mapping projects of Brooklyn living rooms and Manhattan doors, it offers an accessible way to engage with an existing archive.

Old NYC is an excellent portal for just about any aspect of New York City history, with plenty of fun finds to stumble upon, such as whimsical 1930s Macy’s Thanksgiving parade balloons designed by Tony Sarg flying in Columbus Circle, a shadowy view below the old elevated train on the Bowery, and 1920s beachgoers at Coney Island. All of New York’s oldest museums are also present, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the American Museum of Natural History, with images from a time when top hats and bustles were not unusual attire for strolling the galleries. Below are some then-and-now comparisons of these museums via Old NYC.

View of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street (1915) (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library)
View of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street (1915) (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library)
Metropolitan Museum of Art today on Google Maps (heavily obscured by what seems to be an empty tour bus)
Metropolitan Museum of Art today on Google Maps (heavily obscured by what seems to be an empty tour bus)
The Henry Clack Frick House (now the Frick Collection) on Fifth Avenue at 70th Street (1912) (photo by Brown Brothers, Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The Henry Clay Frick House (now the Frick Collection) on Fifth Avenue at 70th Street (1912) (photo by Brown Brothers, Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The Frick Collection today on Google Maps
The Frick Collection today on Google Maps
The Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue (1925) (photo by Ewing Galloway, Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue (1925) (photo by Ewing Galloway, Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The Brooklyn Museum today on Google Maps
The Brooklyn Museum today on Google Maps
The American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West between 77th Street and 81st Street (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West between 77th Street and 81st Street (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The American Museum of Natural History today on Google Maps
The American Museum of Natural History today on Google Maps (with the evergreen dinosaurs out for the holidays)
Museum of the City of New York (1940) (photo by Wurts Brothers, Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
Museum of the City of New York (1940) (photo by Wurts Brothers, Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
Museum of the City of New on Google Maps today (hidden by trees)
Museum of the City of New York on Google Maps today (hidden by trees)
Andrew Carnegie's mansion on Fifth Avenue between 90th and 91st streets, future home of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (1929)
Andrew Carnegie’s mansion on Fifth Avenue between 90th and 91st streets, future home of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (1929)
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on Google Maps today
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on Google Maps today
97 Orchard Street, future home of the Tenement Museum (1929) (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
97 Orchard Street, future home of the Tenement Museum (1929) (Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library)
The Tenement Museum today on Google Maps
The Tenement Museum on Google Maps today

Explore thousands of archive New York Public Library images at Old NYC.

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